Jessie: Truly enjoying the second day of school!

In  few weeks time my husband and I will be heading to China for a vacation. He’s been practicing away on Rosetta Stone Mandarin and racking up inspiring documentaries on our Netflix queue.

I’ve been thinking about what to pack.Whenever we travel I feel compelled to take as little as possible. I don’t like feeling weighed down by extras. My height makes overhead compartments a trial even with the lightest of carryon cases. So I’ve been looking at my wardrobe and some online suggestions and am aiming at fitting everything I actually need into a single carryon bag. Experts say it can easily be done with proper planning.

Which brings me to writing. Crafting a novel is a lot like going on a journey to a new and unfamiliar place. It is tempting to overpack with too much description, too many navel-gazing moments by the protagonist. Do you need to give the main character an umbrella just because it’s raining? Do you need a mustache on that villain?  Does light need to glint off every surface? How much is too much and how much is just right?

When you are working with a traditional publisher you sign a contract for a book that has an expected range for the word count. It works a lot like a weight limit on suitcases. Just like the traveler who keeps pulling things back out of the bag every time the luggage scale reads over 50 pounds, writers trim words and look for verbs that work hardest. We crunch and roll and squeeze as much into the space as possible hoping our readers will enjoy their journey with us.

Writers, do you treat your work like a carryon bag? Readers, do you have any packing tips for me?

24 Thoughts

  1. great analogy! My first draft is like a VW-sized mound of clothes piled on the bed, something of everything, in many colors, with extra pairs of socks. Revisions reduce the word count into a carry on bag: one color theme (navy blue for me, black for everyone else), one scarf that appears in every photo, layers of short and long sleeve t’s and sweaters, and an extra pair of sightseeing shoes. I wear a hoodie on the plane with a neck pillow on top, and trousers with a wide elastic waist band.

      1. I felt compelled to write! I just came back from a few weeks in Germany and Austria and stressed about my footwear since I would be walking everywhere! I found that a pair of black flat booties (mine are from Aldo) did the trick! They went with all my outfits and could be dressed up or down. Having said that, colourful sneakers/trainers were on everyone in Europe! And I mean really colourful! Also, pack some insoles, band-aids and breathable socks. Have fun!

  2. One of the most useful travel tips I have: scarves. They change the look of the two pair of pants, one skirt, and five tops needed for the trip, unlike jewelry they weigh nothing, and take up no room. Two that coordinate with everything would do it, but also take a pashmina of some kind. It’s great for an added layer anywhere, or as a blanket, or as a head covering in inclement weather or when visiting a sacred place. And you can tie it around the handle of your carryon.

    1. Karen, I completely agree about scarves.I plan to take a couple but am really hoping to buy a few silk ones while I am there. Which leads right back to packing light so I have room!

  3. I’m an over packer on trips and could never manage a trip to China with only a carry on. However, in writing by the end of the first draft I usually need to add more into the bag. Go figure.

  4. Overpacker here also. The joke/truth is that I carry more on an ordinary day than Rick Steves takes for a trip to Europe, so maybe go to him for packing advice. One tip from the art teacher who took students on EFS trips to Europe: he told them to bring their oldest underwear and throw them away after wearing them, thus lightening the suitcase and leaving room for purchases.
    Oh, and you probably need power adapters for electrical stuff. I was relieved on one cruise to learn that if we paid to have the ship take our bags to the airport, they would not be weighed. Worth it!
    I do love the analogy . . . have read the occasional over-the-weight-limit book and wished for a Reader’s Digest version . . .

  5. You’re going to ace that packing, Jessie. I went to Morocco for two weeks with only a carry-on. Mix and match, drip-dry clothes, comfortable shoes, a shawl, a Kindle or iPad for reading. And leave room for bringing a few things home! (Although I’m a terrible overpacker when I drive somewhere. Hey, I have a car, might as well bring that, too!)

    As for writing, well, I think it’s the revision stage that’s like packing. I lay everything out on the bed and then start removing what I don’t need.

    1. Isn’t that always the way with car trips?I always seem to do that. And the crazy thing is that it is easier to stop for things you’ve forgotten if you are on a road trip with your own car.

  6. I need a carry on just for my books! I’m the last person to talk to about packing light.

    Good luck and your trip sounds wonderful!

  7. I always overpack. My friends know that I will have absolutely everything I could need and that they may need as well. I can fit a ton of things in one bag and no one believes all that is in it, not even those pesky tsa people who ALWAYS search my bags when I check them. I have a collection of their nice little notes. Some how though they dont get too far into my bag before they give up and just stick the note in it. Always roll clothing, stick things inside of other things (socks, undies, scarves inside of shoes for example). The biggest negative of just taking one carry on – you can only have a quart bag of liquids, you will have no room for anything you want to bring home, and it will be heavy. A better idea is to make sure you take a carry on with at least one/two days of clothing and necessities and anything that is irreplaceable. Sorry I have gone on and one, but I used to go to Germany every summer, brought home tons, used to load luggage on airplanes and had to have everything fit, and have flown for most of my life. Good luck and have a great time!!

  8. One more thing, that Kay reminded me of. Blister ampoules, made my Band-Aid, with gel pads for over the blister. They come in different sizes, and can make a big difference in your walking comfort. Band-Aid also makes what looks like a tiny version of a stick deodorant, but it’s for gliding over the blister-prone spots on your feet (under a bra strap, etc.), to reduce the friction. I can’t think what it’s called, but you can find it in the first aid section, right next to the blister bandages. It takes up very little room, but having one saved my vacation when I was hiking in brand-new boots.

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